Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bad Hair Years



When I was about seven, eight, or whatever age qualifies for third grade, I saw an ad for synthetic hair on the back cover of my comic book.

"Feels and looks JUST LIKE REAL HAIR!" and "They'll think your hair grew OVERNIGHT!" and "NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW it's not yours."

Not a full wig, but per the illustration, a braid as long as my arm and twice as thick; priced at something extremely reasonable -- maybe $2 or $3.50? -- doable, if you hoarded your allowance, which I did.

(I didn't hoard like Scrooge, of course. Or DeeAnne Hartshorne. Her father owned a plumbing business and every night poured his spare change into her giant pickle jar, sometimes dollar bills, too. This money she never spent; the pickle jar was an art installation, one her friends were called upon to admire and total at least once a month. This we did, not because we liked DeeAnne, but because she had a pony. "Hey DeeAnne, let's count it later, after we ride Thunderball.")

At this tender age, my observational, anecdotal research indicated that little girls fell into two categories: Those with long silken locks which a mother would wash, condition, brush, ponytail, pigtail, braid; and those like me who got a quarterly shearing by interns -- or convicts for all I know -- at a local beauty college, freshman class.

I begged my mother to let me grow my hair long, but she claimed, given its texture, cowlicks, and kink, I'd look like a sheepdog. In retrospect, I see her point. But in retrospect, I also see mine.

Eight-year old kids don't have bad hair days, eight-year old kids just have hair and days.

But it wasn't really about the hair, not entirely, anyway. This was one in a series of losing battles for a square-inch of self-determination, and long-hair territory seemed worth a fight.

In elementary school, I always chose a seat in the back of the classroom. Shy? Hardly. I was the annoying child waving her arm, exploding with all the answers. "Meeeeee, call on meeee!" I sat in the last row because if I couldn't be the teacher and see all the faces, then at least I could see all the backs. Which led, contributed to my long-hair obsession.

My friend Kim, for instance, had golden tresses that fell to her waist. Every time she sat down, her back and chair held her hair hostage so she'd have to fling her wrist behind her neck to free it from captivity.

My other friend Lynne had a ponytail situated high on her crown and it would whip around in a dramatic, poetic fashion every time she turned her head. "Whoosh, whoosh," it whispered, when on the journey from left shoulder to right. Oh, how I ached with envy.

So while I did listen and learn multiplication, long division, e.e. cummings, Pippi Longstocking, Native American history, my attention switched regularly between the lessons and admiration for breathtakingly beautiful hair. Hair that could have been, should have been, mine.

Back to the braids. They came in three colors -- black, brown, and blonde. I selected Blonde, and, throwing caution to the wind, sent for two, then anxiously awaited for the box (heavy box, maybe two pounds, I reckoned, to contain them both). According to the advertisement, important beauty tips along with attachment apparatus would be included at no extra charge.

I told no one of my plan, let them all be surprised when I transformed from short to long hair OVERNIGHT. I stalked the mailbox all week.

Turns out, my braids didn't need a box at all. The two wizened offerings fit neatly into one slim envelope. And they didn't feel and look so much like REAL HAIR as real kitchen twine, and the most important beauty tip was not to wear my braids near an open flame.

Did I wear them? Just a couple of times, in the privacy of my bedroom. I swung my head from side to side, hoping for a Whoosh, or at least a whoos, or a whoo.

After a week, I lost interest in my braids, and my attention shifted from glamour to scientific observation, experimentation, and validation. I took my braids to the stove, and switched on the burner.

I'd like to say the braids taught me something -- that personal power, control over one's own destiny, isn't a matter of hair or anything external in general, or that one shouldn't envy friends when they have something you lack. Or that a high octane imagination will never make something out of nothing.

But what I really learned was that the manufacturer wasn't kidding about the open flame. And a dish rag won't remove soot from walls, and it's hard to explain your innermost thoughts and philosophical ideas to a mother when her kitchen is smoking.

I learned that life's lessons may cost more than one's original estimate. There might be hell to pay.

28 comments:

  1. You're an interesting kid. I'm a little bit scared of you.

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    1. Yeah, I looked liked something out the Addams Family. But things got better by 6th grade.

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  2. I can't tell what I'm more in awe of -- your mad writing skillz, or having the courage to run that picture. I bow to you.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Dissonance between your parents and your culture...especially with what(ever) it means to be a girl.

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  4. I agree w/ Sage.... but, as soon as I saw that headband, boy did that bring back memories... had one in every color.. for me it was that awful pixie, my mother insisted I have since she dreaded brushing my hair.. she claimed I had too many knots...I also longed for long hair.. funny how we always want what others may have?

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  5. Great text as always, Karin!
    About your photo, you were a beautiful girl!
    I have many photos like yours that I value because they reminds me of my teenager years and my insecurities about my hair...
    Have a nice Sunday!

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  6. How many years did it take before Karen burning down the kitchen became a favorite family story?

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  7. Would it have killed my mother to at least let me wear bangs? My forehead is the size of Asia.

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    1. As far as bangs, I bet your mom probably thought like mine.. thinking that bangs would cause pimples to crop up under those bangs- since our forehead couldn't breath unless totally exposed! I bet u would of looked cute w/bangs.

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  8. Like KBF, I had headbands. And, like KBF, my mother kept my hair in a "cute Pixie cut!" until I was in 6th grade, at which point I flat-out refused to get out of the car at the salon. I had hair envy, and by 7th grade my hair was at least below my shoulders. Not pony-tail long or chair trapping long, but at least it wasn't "cute". And that is why I wear my hair waist length to this day, and always will.

    I'm glad I didn't see the ad for the artificial braids, because I would have wanted them, too. Great piece, as always, Karin.

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  9. Oh I know that unavoidable pain. When the object of our desire arrives in a baggy rather then a box.

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  10. This is my new favorite. A perfect piece.

    I was one of "those with long silken locks which a mother would wash, condition, brush, ponytail, pigtail, braid," and I can tell you that you're right. It's not about hair. If their lives are lacking in some way kids will always find something lacking in themselves, and it can take a lifetime to learn that it's not about them.

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  11. I just came across this in Brain Pickings.
    http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/17/missing-out-adam-phillips/?mc_cid=74b7067de7&mc_eid=ef40ed4246

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    1. looked @the link.. wow, u are spot on! :-)

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    2. I had just read Karin's post, then this was linked on a publishing blog I read.

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  12. That book by Adam Phillips, Fear of Missing Out, sounds fascinating, Petrea.

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    1. It does. Like when someone puts something into words that you had never thought of, but that makes completely sense.

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    2. Exactly. In the 5th grade, I was convinced that if only my name were Steven, like 5 other kids in my grade, I would fit in. Now I see I need a complete reevaluation.

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  13. Brain Pickings digs up the best stuff.

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  14. I read the Brain Pickings and picked my brain, only to realize that for me it did not compute. In my by now longish and unexamined life, I live so much in the moment that the couldda-beens do not haunt, though I'm sure they are legion. If you take joy in observing a mushroom evolving, can you ask for more? Be dull for those around of course, but Oh well. But about Hair. Of all the uncertainties and self-criticisms that young girls are heir to, the only thing I was OK with was my hair. Shoulder length or more, red-blond and a style of my own choosing, I was happy with it, even after bad Robin, the boy the desk behind mine, dipped the tips of the braids in the ink well. Yes, we had ink wells back in the dark ages. I keep a big hank of my deep red hair in my drawer. Today there is but a suggestion of the red in the pinned-up strands, but it is still long and I'm still OK with it.

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  15. You are hilarious. Our senses of humor and memory recall are quite a match. Of course, in about the 4th or 5th grade I started slappin' vaseline in my hair to make it look so 'elvis'. Thought I looked so cool. 'Hair' today;gone tomorrow. My dad had our barber cut off all my locks before I headed off to college. I vowed that day to never set foot in a barber shop again. Been 49 years and counting. I get it trimmed every 3 months or so. Medusa-like locks, really.

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  16. btw AGREED. You are Oh so brave posting this portrait.

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  17. Once again you nailed a topic we can all relate to. I laughed out loud when I first read this post and shared with my husband the part about beauty school - me too! I had a pixie cut when I was very young but by sixth grade wore foam rollers to bed so I would have a "flip." In junior high I had bangs and I often cut them myself, often with not so wonderful results. I've never been completely happy with my hair - it never does what I want it to what with cowlicks and swirls and a mind of its own. I'm lucky that there's plenty of it and it grows fast, so when I use bad judgment it doesn't take long to self-correct:)

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  18. Ha! I remember those hair ads. You were much braver than me.
    I hope you're collecting these pieces for a book....

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